Memory loss isn’t just ‘part of getting older.’ For many people, some as early as their early 20s, constant forgetfulness is a real problem, too. The reasons may surprise you.
You’re at the grocery store and realize you can only remember two of the three things you needed. Coffee? Eggs? And? You get back home and finally remember: toilet paper! If this is you, you’re not alone.
People across the United States accidentally miss doctor’s appointments, respond with blank stares when friends reminisce about an “unforgettable” night and completely freeze on their co-workers’ names at the office. The shocking part is what was once regarded as “senior moments” are happening to people as early as their 20s.
Certain medications, head trauma, vitamin deficiencies, aging and stress are more commonly known to cause forgetfulness and poor memory function, but a major culprit could be YOU. “Most of memory is not retention, but it’s attention,” says Jackie Keller, a certified professional wellness coach and nutritionist in Los Angeles. “It isn’t whether it’s important, it’s whether it’s important to you.”
So, if it’s important to you and you’re still having trouble recollecting everything from where you put your keys to who you are supposed to have lunch with on Friday, here are some memory-zapping bandits to consider:
1. Poor Nutrition
Your brain runs on blood sugar (otherwise known as glucose). It needs 20 percent of the body’s blood sugar to do its job effectively. When your brain gets starved of glucose, it fails to function properly, affecting your ability to focus or retain information. Skipping meals, eating too much or consuming fatty or sugary foods all have a negative effect on your noggin’s supply of brain food. Take a look:
• Skipping meals: Low blood sugar due to skipped meals, particularly breakfast, starves your brain and affects your ability to think. If your ability to think is affected, your ability for recall and forming new memories are affected, Keller explains. You especially can’t expect your brain to function properly if you don’t do anything to “wake it up” in the morning. “You have to give your brain some ‘go juice,’” she says. If you don’t, it’s like “not putting gas in your car and expecting it to go somewhere.”
• Eating too much: Conversely, just as not eating enough will starve your brain, overeating may contribute to memory loss. A recent study conducted by the Mayo Clinic has found that those consuming the most calories each day (more than 2,143 per day), were twice as likely to have mild cognitive impairment than those who consumed fewer than 1,526 calories per day.
• Consuming bad-for-you foods: A diet of sugary snacks and sodas and fried, fatty foods can wreak havoc on your ability to recall. Here’s why: sugary sweets, snacks and sodas cause a spike in blood sugar and boosts insulin levels, which, in turn, tells the brain to stash any excess glucose from your blood and save it for later. Meanwhile, a steady diet of fried, fatty foods can clog arteries and eventually constrict blood flow to the brain.
2. Sleep Deprivation
“The average night’s sleep in United States until 130 years ago was 9 hours a night,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers and Chronicity and the author of From Fatigued to Fantastic. “Now we are down to 6 [hours] and this is leaving many people with poor mental function.”
Disrupted or too little sleep hinders your ability to achieve the proper amount of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. “A lack of this type of sleep is one of the great age accelerators, further aging your brain and affecting your thinking,” says Eric Braverman, MD, a professor of integrative medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College. “Without REM, the brain cannot reboot overnight to get ready for the next day. Worse, it creates its own stress cycle that’s hard to break.” During sleep, he explains, memories are consolidated and moved into long-term memory storage as the neuronal connections are strengthened.
David Borenstein, MD, a board-certified physician specializing in physical medicine and rehabilitation and anti-aging medicine at Manhattan Integrative Medicine in New York, says, “Sleep deprivation also reduces the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus and causes problems with memory, concentration and decision making. It can even lead to depression – another memory killer.”
The amount of sleep necessary varies among individuals, but the general consensus is that most people need 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night for optimal health.
3. Excessive Alcohol
While studies suggest that drinking one glass of red wine each day may be good for your health, drinking too much alcohol (more than 14 drinks a week – no more than four at a time – for men, and more than 7 drinks per week – no more than 3 drinks per occasion – for women, according to Braverman), could be bad for your brain. “Excessive alcohol intake is toxic to brain cells, and alcohol abuse leads to memory loss,” says Borenstein. “Over time, alcohol abuse may also increase the risk of dementia.”
In addition to its toxicity, alcohol restricts blood vessels (hello, hangover headache!). If your blood vessels are restricted, then not enough blood is getting to the brain. So once again, less blood flow = less glucose = poor brain function/memory loss.
4. Too Much Technology
You can’t live without your laptop, iPad, GPS, smart phone, Twitter, Instagram or Facebook, but think about it: what’s happening – or not happening – to your ability to remember when too much information is always at your fingertips? One study conducted on 20- to 35-year-olds in Japan at Hokkaido University found that one in 10 participants were suffering from major memory issues. Toshiyuki Sawaguchi, professor of neurobiology at the university, concluded that people as early as their 20s, are losing the ability to remember new things, retrieve old data or distinguish between important and unimportant information. He called it a type of “brain dysfunction.”
Larry McCleary, MD, a neurosurgeon and the author of Feed Your Brain, Lose Your Belly, says, “I think that technology is not all positive for brain health. It can be stimulating in many ways and can be a great source of information to help you form ideas, thoughts and develop concepts …. However, the fact that we don’t need to remember things the way we did previously might be bad for brain health.”
One part of the technology aspect that McCleary feels is worse than gadgets, is “the sense of permanent connectivity as manifested by incessant tweets, texting, emails and, overlying those, are the numerous phone calls we receive. These are informative but are also key factors in the continual distractions that interfere with the ability to think about, consider and manipulate complex thoughts,” he says. “It is almost like people feel they need to respond immediately to ‘get it off their desk’ and move on.”
If you’re suffering from memory loss, start by examining your lifestyle. It could be the necessary changes include eating nutritionally balanced meals, getting more ZZZ’s, avoiding (or seriously limiting alcohol) and not giving in to that technology temptation all the time. But if your memory takes a serious dive in a short amount of time, you should check with your physician. You could be suffering from an illness such as hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder or something else.
The mind is a terrible thing to waste, especially if you’re the one wasting it. So, go boost that brain power. Don’t forget!